Vol. 5 Num 816 Tue. September 12, 2006  

In conversation
Zinnat Barkatullah and her passion for dance

Zinnat Barkatullah is a familiar face in the cultural circuit. As director, Department of Production, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, she seeks to showcase the Bangladeshi culture overseas and at home through a variety of programmes. In Zinnat's words, "Shilpakala has made immense contributions in developing artistes in the country."

Though Zinnat has worked at the Shilpakala Academy for the last 27 years, she took over her current position in 2002. She has also learnt and performed various dance forms, ranging from modern, folk and Kathakto Manipuri and Bharatnatyam.

An obvious question that comes to mind is the hurdles of working in a government organisation. "The main problem is related to finance," asserts Zinnat, adding, "Our payment to performers is very low compared to other institutions." What about favouritism? Says Zinnat, " I am quite independent and can involve people from all political ideologies in my programmes."

Among Zinnat's feathers in the cap are a recent two-night programme of classical dance, a performance of Nakshi Kanthar Math and a variety show for the SAARC foreign ministers conference. The former includes genres such as Kathak, Bharatnatyam and Odissi.

Zinnat has impressive credentials. On the completion of a six-year certificate course from Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts (with a first position), she trained with late GA Mannan, Babu Ram Singh, Begum Rahiza Khanam Jhunu and Dulal Talukdar. Subsequently she did a training of six months in ballet and dance choreography under experts from North Korea.

Among her attainments on the stage and TV: The portrayal of the central character (Shyama) in Tagore's eponymous dance drama at Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts in 1970 and on the stage and television in 1975. Other works are Chitrangada, Shakuntala and Matir Konya. She has also acted in around 80 TV plays.

Zinnat's talent has taken her places. She has given dance performances in India, Hong Kong, China, Canada, UK, USA and Zambia, among others. Among her latest milestones are the Bangladesh Cultural Society, Lifetime Achievement Award and Natyashabha Award.

Over the years, Zinnat has slowed down to some extent because of her high blood pressure. However, she does not subscribe to the theory that dancers have a limited career. "If dancers have the stamina, they can continue as many years as possible," she says.

There have been radical changes in the dance scenario of Bangladesh, believes Zinnat. For one, this art form has attained respectability. Also dance is a natural preference for young artistes aspiring to make it big on the ramp, TV or films. Says Zinnat, "The body movement and facial expression are important in both acting and dancing. Dancers are taught nine kinds of expression, which make it easier for them to perform in plays or films. If the dancers have genuine passion for dance, they can carry on these activities along with dance. But if they opt out, then it will be a loss for dance."

Zinnat in Kathak costume